Drought conditions may affect the region’s corn yield

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Rain. Whether you have acres of grain crops or pasture, a garden, or lawn, this four-letter word is something we all need desperately.

Up until this week, Carroll County had been listed by the U.S. Drought Index as abnormally dry.  However, the last report on July 10 placed Carroll County in Drought Level D1 – Moderate.

With the lack of rain and high temperatures we have experienced over the last couple of weeks, corn yields are of major concern.  Identifying the success of pollination in fields will help to determine what should be done to salvage this year’s crop.

According to University of Kentucky Extension agronomist Dr. Chad Lee, anthers fully exposed across the entire tassel indicates that pollination is nearly complete. Pollen release normally begins near the middle of the tassel and then upwards and downwards. If the plant is still pollinating, a gentle shake of the tassel should release some of the small pollen grains. If there are no pollen grains, then pollination is probably complete.

Brown silks are an indication that pollination is complete as well.  These indicators are important, because in many fields across Kentucky, pollen drop has occurred before silk emergence.

Gently cutting open the husks around the ear can reveal the silks and developing ear.  Once pollen travels down the silk and fertilizes an ovule, the silks detach from the young kernel.  A gentle shake of the ear will help you identify the amount of pollination that has occurred.  As kernel development progresses, identifying pollination success becomes easier. Developing kernels are easy to see while the blanks are easy to see as well.  An ear where almost all kernels are developing is evidence of excellent pollination.

If pollination success is minimal, the next question is, “Now what can I do with this corn?”

There are a few options to choose from, but be sure to check with your crop insurance agent before making a decision.

A few things to consider:

• If corn is going to be fed as green chop, grazed or as hay, test for nitrates before harvest to be sure the crop will be safe to feed.

• For corn harvested properly as silage or baleage and which goes through a good fermentation, nitrate levels could decrease 30 to 50 percent and can be tested after fermentation and before being fed.

If you need to decide which corn fields to harvest as silage or hay, testing before harvesting will allow one to determine which fields need to be harvested as silage (those higher in nitrates) and those with safe levels of nitrates which can be harvested as corn hay.

Check herbicide withdrawals to make sure the crop can be fed to livestock.

Raise the cut height—nitrates are highest in the plant stem closer to the ground.  This may be more difficult if using a disc mower or other hay equipment for the purpose of making hay or baleage.

If at all possible, harvest as silage and let ferment for 4-6 weeks before feeding.  You may want to consider using a silage inoculant.  Again, test for nitrates before feeding.

Watch the moisture content of the crop closely.

For additional information on the drought impact, testing for nitrates, and making hay or baleage out of corn, contact the Carroll County Extension Office at (502) 732-7030.


Christin Herbst is the Carroll County Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources. Call her at (502) 732-7030 or send e-mail to Christin.Herbst@uky.edu.